Peter I of Castile and Leon

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Pedro, I de Castilla i León
Title: 5th Monarch of Castile and Leon
 Term in office: 13501369
 Predecessor: Alfonso XI
 Successor: King Enrique II
 Date: 1334
 Date: 1369
Profession: ...
Relgious Affiliation: Catholic

Peter I (August 30, 1334 – March 23, 1369; Castilian: Pedro I), sometimes known as Peter the Cruel or Pedro el Cruel, was the king of Castile and Leon from 1350 to 1369. He was the son of Alfonso XI and Maria, daughter of Alphonso IV of Portugal.

He earned for himself the reputation of monstrous cruelty which is indicated by the accepted title. In later ages, when the royal authority was thoroughly established, there was a reaction in Peter's favour, and an alternative name was found for him. It became a fashion to speak of him as El Justiciero, the executor of justice. Apologists were found to say that he had only killed men who themselves would not submit to the law or respect the rights of others. There is this amount of foundation for the plea, that the chronicler Lopez de Ayala, who fought against him, has confessed that the king's fall was regretted by the merchants and traders, who enjoyed security under his rule. Peter began to reign at the age of sixteen, and found himself subjected to the control of his mother and her favourites.

He was immoral, and unfaithful to his wife, as his father had been. But Alfonso XI did not imprison his wife, or cause her to be murdered. Peter certainly did the first, and there can be little doubt that he did the second. He had not even the excuse that he was passionately in love with his mistress, Maria de Padilla; for, at a time when he asserted that he was married to her, and when he was undoubtedly married to Blanche of Bourbon, he went through the form of marriage with a lady of the family of Castro, who bore him a son, and then deserted her. Maria de Padilla was the only lady of his harem of whom he never became quite tired.

At first he was controlled by his mother, but emancipated himself with the encouragement of the minister Albuquerque and became attached to Maria de Padilla. Maria turned him against Albuquerque. In 1354 the king was practically coerced by his mother and the nobles into marrying Blanche of Bourbon, but deserted her at once. A period of turmoil followed in which the king was for a time overpowered and in effect imprisoned. The dissensions of the party which was striving to coerce him enabled him to escape from Toro, where he was under observation, to Segovia.

From 1356 to 1366 he engaged in continued wars with Aragon, in which he showed neither ability nor daring. It was during this period that he perpetrated the series of murders which made him odious. In 1366 he was assailed by his bastard brother Enrique de Trastamara at the head of a host of soldiers of fortune, including Bertrand du Guesclin and Hugh Calveley, and abandoned the kingdom without daring to give battle, after retreating several times (first from Burgos, then from Toledo, and lastly from Seville) in the face of the oncoming armies. Peter fled, with his treasury, to Portugal where he was coldly received by his uncle, King Peter I of Portugal, and thence to Galicia, in northern Spain, where he ordered the murder of Suero, the archbishop of Santiago, and the dean, Peralvarez.

Enqique continuously depicted Peter as "King of the Jews," and had some success in taking advantage of the anti-Semitic feelings of a certain portion of the populace. He instigated pogroms, beginning a period of anti-Jewish riots and forced conversions in Spain that lasted approximately from 1370 to 1390. Peter took forceful measures against this, including the execution of at least five leaders of a riot by boiling and roasting.

In the summer of 1366 Peter took refuge with Edward, the Black Prince, by whom he was restored in the following year. But he disgusted his ally by his faithlessness and ferocity, as well as his failure to repay the costs of the campaign, as he had promised to do. The health of the Black Prince broke down, and he left Spain. When left to his own resources, Peter was soon overthrown by his brother Henry, with the aid of Bertrand du Guesclin and a body of French and English free companions. He was murdered by Henry in du Guesclin's tent on March 23, 1369. His daughters by Maria de Padilla, Constance and Isabella, were respectively married to John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, sons of Edward III, king of England.

The great original but hostile authority for the life of Peter the Cruel is the Chronicle of the Chancellor Pero Lopez de Ayala (Madrid 1779-1780). A brilliantly written Life is that by Prosper Mârimee, Hist. de Don Pedro I, roi de Castille (Paris, 1848).

Preceded by:
Alfonso XI
King of Castile and Leon Succeeded by:
Enrique II
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